Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Saturday, August 20, 2016

"Is Big Marijuana Inevitable?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable New Republic piece authored by lawprof Ryan Stoa, which answers the questionwith a "no" and gets started this way (with links from the original):

In November, voters in as many as 12 states will see a marijuana legalization initiative on their ballots. Marijuana is already legal for recreational use in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Washington, D.C. Another 25 states have legalized medical marijuana. The era of marijuana prohibition is rapidly coming to a close.

Unfortunately, lawmakers lack easy answers to tough questions facing the marijuana industry.  Legalization presents challenges on a number of fronts, including distribution, taxation, consumption, security and public health.

In a recent article, I argue that the agricultural sector of the marijuana industry also presents a number of challenges.  One paramount question looms over the rest: Will marijuana agriculture become consolidated, with “Big Marijuana” companies producing vast quantities of indistinct marijuana?  Or, will small-scale farmers thrive by producing unique and local marijuana strains?

My research shows that Big Marijuana is not inevitable.  On the contrary, a local, sustainable, small-scale farming future is entirely within reach.

 

August 20, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Timely new report on benefits of marijuana reform from West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy

This local article, headlined "Could legalizing marijuana be West Virginia's pot of gold?," reports on this interesting new policy brief released by the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy suggests. The article summarizes the themes of the report, which is titled "Modernizing West Virginia's Marijuana Laws: Potential Benefits of Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana and Legalization." This summary comes directly from the first two pages of the full 27-page report:

Over the last two decades, states across the country have modernized their marijuana laws to reflect the growing evidence that doing so will help reduce criminal justice costs, help treat some medical conditions, and boost tax revenues and their state’s economy. As of 2016, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults, 25 states (and DC) allow for marijuana to be used for medical purposes, and 21 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. With several states considering ballot measures this November and public support for legalization rapidly growing (53% of Americans support legalization) among all age groups, the number of states taking action to undo restrictions on marijuana is likely to grow.

While most states have taken at least one step toward modernizing their marijuana laws, West Virginia has not. However, bi-partisan legislation has been introduced in West Virginia over the last several years to legalize medical marijuana and tax marijuana for retail sales to adults. A 2013 poll found that a majority of West Virginians supports decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing it for medical use, while 46 percent supported regulating it like alcohol.

As West Virginia continues to be plagued by large budget deficits (a projected $300 million for FY 2018), an undiversified economy with a fading coal industry, and poor health outcomes, modernizing the state’s marijuana laws could be a step in addressing these problems and could help save the state money in the long run.

This report provides an overview of the states that have modernized their marijuana laws in recent years– including decriminalization, medical marijuana, and recreational use – and the implications for West Virginia if it decided to pursue a similar path. It provides an overview of federal and state marijuana laws (Section 1), an estimation of the potential tax revenue from legalizing recreational marijuana in West Virginia (Section 2), an evaluation of some potential benefits from modernizing West Virginia’s marijuana laws (Section 3), and recommendations on reforming West Virginia’s marijuana laws (Section 4).

KEY FINDINGS

  • If marijuana was legalized and taxed in West Virginia at a rate of 25 percent of its wholesale price the state could collect an estimated $45 million annually upon full implementation. If 10 percent of marijuana users who live within a 200-mile radius of West Virginia came to the state to purchase marijuana, the state could collect an estimated $194 million.

  • In 2010, it is estimated that West Virginia spent more than $17 million enforcing the state’s marijuana laws. Legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana in West Virginia could reduce the number of marijuana-related arrests, especially among African Americans, which in turn, could reduce criminal-justice-related costs.

  • The marijuana industry has the potential to add jobs both directly and indirectly. As of September 2015, Colorado had 25,311 people licensed to work in its marijuana industry and over 1,000 retail marijuana businesses. If marijuana were legal in West Virginia it could also have the effect of increasing tourism to the state, particularly in regions with outdoor recreational activities.

  • Marijuana may potentially have a positive impact on West Virginia’s opioid-based painkiller and heroin epidemic by offering another, less-addictive alternative to individuals who are suffering from debilitating medical conditions.

August 19, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

"Can the Next U.S. President Reschedule Marijuana?"

USP1310-CE-T2The question in the title of this post is the headline of this timely Inc. article, which essentially answers the question via its lengthy subheadline: "The DEA denied the most recent petition to reschedule marijuana, citing a lack of scientific evidence to prove its medical benefits. But here's how Obama, or the next U.S. president, can reschedule the drug." Here is more from the article:

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has denied the most recent petitions to reschedule marijuana. But Hillary Clinton says that if she becomes president, she will move marijuana to the same category as oxycodone and other opioid painkillers available by a doctor's prescription. Clinton, through her senior policy adviser Maya Harris, told The Cannabist that she will reschedule marijuana from its position as a Schedule I substance to Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act.

"Marijuana is already being used for medical purposes in states across the country, and it has the potential for even further medical use," said Harris in a statement. "As Hillary Clinton has said throughout this campaign, we should make it easier to study marijuana so that we can better understand its potential benefits, as well as its side effects."

Presidential candidates make all sorts of promises, but could a president actually reschedule marijuana unilaterally? The answer is yes, but not with a stroke of a pen.

John Hudak, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, explains that there are certain procedures in the Controlled Substances Act that must be followed. "A president cannot reschedule a substance by executive order, that is against the Controlled Substance Act," says Hudak. "It is against the letter of the law." Hudak says there is a suggestion in the CSA that the attorney general might be able to reschedule a substance unilaterally through an order, but that would fly against the long-established administrative procedure and might bump up serious legal challenges.

Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy and the director of the Crime Reduction & Justice Initiative at New York University's Marron Institute, explains how Hillary, if she wins, can follow through on her promise. "She is not making it up. She can reschedule marijuana. It's not that complicated," says Kleiman. The power to reschedule a substance, Kleiman says, has been delegated to the attorney general (who in turn delegates to the DEA) and to the Department of Health and Human Services (which in turn delegates its clinical testing to the FDA). "But, yes," he adds. "Those people work for the president, and, yes, the president can tell them to reschedule marijuana."

The logistical process of rescheduling, Kleiman says, would involve redefining what "current accepted medical use" means in the Controlled Substances Act. Again, it's up to the agencies (attorney general with the DEA; HHS with the FDA) to define what that term means. "All the DEA has to do is explain how they have overruled themselves and will be going back to what DEA administrative law judge Francis Young said in 1988, that 'medical use' means a bunch of physicians believe something is useful," says Kleiman. "The DEA could say how they take notice that a lot of physicians are recommending marijuana and how 25 state legislatures agree with the doctors. We are now saying this has accepted medical use, but it still has high abuse potential; we're putting it in Schedule II."

As the CSA gave authority to the attorney general, who in turn delegated to the DEA, those agencies are allowed to interpret statutes in varying degrees, unless the decisions are "obviously unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious," says Kleiman. That means if Clinton wanted to reschedule marijuana if she makes it to the White House, she could....

It should be noted, however, that rescheduling will not make the state-sanctioned recreational markets in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state, and Washington, D.C. legal, nor will it make the medical marijuana markets in 25 states legal. If marijuana becomes a Schedule II drug, it will still be illegal federally to use, produce, or manufacture. If marijuana were down-scheduled, it would still be federally illegal to produce and sell because Schedule II drugs cannot be given out without a prescription. A prescription can only be written for an FDA-approved drug, and there are no FDA-approved drugs made with the whole cannabis plant. (Marinol, which is FDA approved, is made with synthetic THC.)

As for the industry's hope that the whole plant will be FDA-approved, Hudak says not a chance. Hudak says if cannabis-based medicines are approved in the future, the medicines will not be botanical. Like other FDA-approved drugs, specific chemicals will be extracted and isolated at the molecular level in a method that is replicable and consistent. "You might see cannabinoid compounds rescheduled and put on the market, but whole flower smoked marijuana will never be approved," says Hudak.

August 18, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Noting that marijuana users are starting to look more like tobacco users than alcohol users

In a lot of my teaching about marijuana reform and policy advocacy, I try to get my students (and others) to explore and better understand why advocates for marijuana reform often want to talk so much about similarities between alcohol and marijuana, whereas advocates against marijuana reform often want to talk so much about similarities between tobacco and marijuana.  Against that brackdrop, this new Washington Post piece reporting on new research about marijuana use should boost the cause of opponents of marijuana reform.  Here are the details (with links from the original):

A massive study published this month in the Journal of Drug Issues found that the proportion of marijuana users who smoke daily has rapidly grown, and that many of those frequent users are poor and lack a high-school diploma. 

Examining a decade of federal surveys of drug use conducted between 2002 and 2013, study authors Steven Davenport and Jonathan Caulkins paint one of the clearest pictures yet of the demographics of current marijuana use in the U.S.  They found that the profile of marijuana users is much closer to cigarette smokers than alcohol drinkers, and that a handful of users consume much of the marijuana used in the U.S.   "In the early 1990s only one in nine past-month [marijuana] users reported using daily or near-daily," Davenport and Caulkins write. "Now it is fully one in three. Daily or near-daily users now account for over two-thirds of self-reported days of use (68%)."

These usage patterns are similar to what's seen among tobacco users. "What’s going on here is that over the last 20 years marijuana went from being used like alcohol to being used more like tobacco, in the sense of lots of people using it every day," Caulkins said in an email.  

Adults with less than a high school education accounted for 19 percent of all marijuana use in 2012 and 2013 (compared to 13 percent of the total adult population), according to the survey. This is similar to their 20 percent share of all cigarette use, but considerably higher than their 8 percent share of all alcohol use.   Similarly, Americans of all ages with a household income of less than $20,000 accounted for 29 percent of all marijuana use and 27 percent of all cigarette use, compared to only 13 percent of all alcohol use and 19 percent of the total adult population.

The concentration of use among poorer households means that many marijuana users are spending a high proportion of their income on their marijuana habit. Users who spend fully one quarter of their income on weed account for 15 percent of all marijuana use.  One interesting finding is that over the past 10 years as many states have liberalized their marijuana policies, marijuana arrests are down while marijuana purchases are up.  This means that the risk of getting arrested for marijuana use has fallen sharply since 2002. That year, there was one marijuana arrest for every 550 marijuana purchases, according to Davenport and Caulkins. By 2013, there was one marijuana arrest for every 1,090 purchases.

"The criminal risk per marijuana transaction has fallen by half," they conclude.  Much of that risk is still born by non-white marijuana users.

Davenport and Caulkins stress that since the study was conducted over a period preceding the opening of recreational marijuana markets in Colorado and Washington, it doesn't offer any evidence on the merits or lack thereof of legalization.  "Our results can in no way be interpreted as evidence toward the successes or failures of marijuana legalization or even medical marijuana laws," they write.  

However, they say their research presents a number of things to consider as states like California, Arizona and Maine vote on marijuana legalization this fall.   "Most people who have used marijuana in the past year are in full control of their use, and are generally happy with that use," Caulkins said in an email. But, "consumption is highly concentrated among the smaller number of daily & near-daily users, and they tend to be less educated, less affluent, and less in control of their use." 

The median marijuana user, in other words, may be someone who indulges periodically but generally doesn't consume a lot of it.  However, most of the marijuana consumed in the U.S. isn't consumed by the median marijuana user, but rather by the very heavy users who smoke daily or more.  "There is a sharp contrast between what policy is best for the typical user versus what is best for the people who consume most of the marijuana," Caulkins said.  

 

August 14, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 12, 2016

"7 Scientific Effects of Marijuana That Experts Want to Study"

The title of this is the headline of this new Time article that serves as a somewhat fitting follow-up to the (big?) news the DEA delivered this week about marijuana scheduling and research.   Here are excerpts:

On Thursday the U.S. government announced that marijuana would continue to be classified as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse.  However, the feds are allowing more research on marijuana’s medicinal uses by making it easier for researchers to grow it.

Many researchers, both those who view marijuana as beneficial and those who are skeptical, argue that the government’s stance still hinders research.  “I understand the cautious nature of the government, whose role is basically to protect its citizens, but it is disappointing that marijuana continues to be included on the DEA’s list of the most dangerous drugs,” says Dr. Yasmin Hurd of Mount Sinai, who studies the effects of marijuana on the brain.

Though more than 20 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal uses, there’s still a lot scientists don’t know about it.  “It’s actually quite amazing how little we really know about something that has been used for thousands of years,” says Sachin Patel of Vanderbilt University who studies cannabis.  “We desperately need well-controlled unbiased large scale research studies into the efficacy of cannabis for treating disease states, which we have very little of right now.  Without these studies we are basically flying blind with regard to medical marijuana in my opinion.”

Scientists argue that studying marijuana is safe, and researching it shouldn’t be such a difficult process.  “A question that is not on the lips of researchers is whether or not the consumption of cannabis-based medicines is safe,” says Gregory Gerdeman, an Assistant Professor of Biology at Eckerd College.  “In the biomedical research community, it is universally understood that cannabis is a very safe, well-tolerated medicine.”

Here’s what researchers tell TIME they want to know about marijuana.

Is marijuana an effective cancer therapy?...

What does it do to the brain?...

What dosage or strains have the best use in medicine?...

Can marijuana help brain and cognitive problems?...

What about anxiety?...

Can pot help end the opioid epidemic?...

Are there long term consequences of using pot?

August 12, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

DEA announces new policy "designed to increase the number of entities registered under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to grow (manufacture) marijuana to supply legitimate researchers in the United States"

As the DEA exaplins in this press release (which also notes its decision to deny petitions seeking rescheduling of marijuana under the CSA (discussed here)), the agency has "announced a policy change designed to foster research by expanding the number of DEA- registered marijuana manufacturers."  The formal announcement of the new policy can be found in this Federal Register document, and here is more about the policy change from the DEA press release:

This change should provide researchers with a more varied and robust supply of marijuana. At present, there is only one entity authorized to produce marijuana to supply researchers in the United States: the University of Mississippi, operating under a contract with NIDA.  Consistent with the CSA and U.S. treaty obligations, DEA’s new policy will allow additional entities to apply to become registered with DEA so that they may grow and distribute marijuana for FDA-authorized research purposes.

This change illustrates DEA’s commitment to working together with the FDA and NIDA to facilitate research concerning marijuana and its components. DEA currently has 350 individuals registered to conduct research on marijuana and its components.  Notably, DEA has approved every application for registration submitted by researchers seeking to use NIDA-supplied marijuana to conduct research that HHS determined to be scientifically meritorious. 

Encouragingly, John Hudak at Brookings, who understand the ins and outs of federal marijuana laws and regulations better than anyone, has this new commentary explainaing why he thinks this DEA marijuana research decision "is more important than rescheduling." Here is how he starts his must-read commentary:

Today the Drug Enforcement Administration is expected to announce its decision on a five-year-old marijuana rescheduling petition.  After a long wait and amid wild speculation about the agency’s intentions, DEA has decided to keep marijuana as a Schedule I substance, but to take the unexpected step of ending the monopoly on the production of research grade marijuana.

This move will certainly disappoint many in the marijuana reform community who hoped that DEA would change marijuana’s status.  Under current policy — and now continuing policy — marijuana is categorized along with heroin and LSD as a substance that has no medical value and that has a high potential for abuse.  Reformers hoped that the administration would accept the claim that marijuana has medical benefit and can be used safely in treatment.  Today, it is opting not to do so.

However, DEA, in a clear sign of the growing political complexity around cannabis policy in the United States, will strike a balance.  Rather than wholly maintaining the current policy, the administration nixed a different stumbling block to the study of marijuana and its efficacy as a medical product: the DEA mandated monopoly on the growth of marijuana for research (administered through the National Institutes on Drug Abuse).  The DEA-mandated NIDA monopoly was cited as a significant barrier to research by observers like myself, Mark Kleiman and many others, as well as clinical researchers themselves.

Despite reformers’ discontent, this decision may be more meaningful than the ultimate goal of rescheduling for both policy and political reasons.

August 11, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Should I care more about (and is anyone studying closely) state marijuana decriminalization reforms?

DecrimThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article from Illinois headlined "Rauner reduces punishment for minor pot possession from jail to citation." Here are the details:

Getting caught with small amounts of marijuana will result in citations akin to a traffic ticket instead of the possibility of jail time under legislation Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law Friday.

Rauner's approval of the decriminalization measure comes after he used his amendatory veto powers last year to rewrite similar legislation he argued would have allowed people to carry too much pot and fine violators too little.

Supporters incorporated his proposed changes, and under the new law those caught with up to 10 grams of marijuana will face fines of $100 to $200. Individual municipalities could add to the fines and implement other penalties, such as requiring offenders to attend drug treatment. Citations would be automatically expunged twice a year, on Jan. 1 and July 1.

Under previous Illinois law, possession of up to 10 grams of pot was a class B misdemeanor that could result in up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,500.

The law also would loosen the state's zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence. Before, a driver could be charged if any trace of marijuana was detected, even if it was ingested weeks before and the driver showed no signs of impairment. Under the new law, drivers won't be charged with DUI unless they have 5 nanograms or more of THC in their blood, or 10 nanograms or more of THC in their saliva.

The state law follows a measure enacted by Chicago in 2012 that allows police to issue tickets of $250 to $500 for someone caught with 15 grams or less of marijuana. The state law wouldn't override laws in cities such as Chicago that already have fines in place, but would create uniformity across the state for towns that don't have such measures on the books.

The effort marks a rare point of agreement between Rauner and Democrats. Both sides seek to cut the burden on the court system and overhaul the state's approach to criminal justice. "We applaud Gov. Rauner and the legislature for replacing Illinois's needlessly draconian marijuana possession law with a much more sensible policy," Chris Lindsey, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project said in a statement. "This commonsense legislation will prevent countless citizens from having their lives turned upside down by a marijuana possession arrest."

I tend to view so-called "decriminalization" of marijuana to be something of a misnomer because a person still risks fines and other problems from marijuana possession even after laws are changed in this way. Moreover, I think only some form of legalization enhances the benefits of serious marijuana reform. But, especially if there is developing research showing that decriminalization significantly reduces the economic and human costs of marijuana prohibition, perhaps I should get more excited when more states join the decriminalization bandwagon.

July 31, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Can anybody point me to great databases or empirical analyses of misdemeanor marijuana convictions (state or federal)?

The question in the title of this post started banging around my head this afternoon after I did two posts today over at my Sentencing Law & Policy blog: this one about a notable federal misdemeanor marijuana prosecution of a Native American teen in Oregon and this one about an article doing an empirical analysis of the "downstream consequences" of pretrial detention for misdemeanors.

I am always trying to take stock of the criminal justice "footprint" of marijuana prohibition, and it should be obviously that misdemeanor charges, convictions and punishments are surely a huge (and probably the largest) part of that footprint.  Nevertheless, I have never seen (nor really every seriously looked for) any detailed databases or empirical analyses of misdemeanor marijuana cases in any particular jurisdiction.  I would be very grateful to hear from any and everyone who know whether and where such resources might be found.

July 28, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Democrats formally approve platform calling for "pathway" to marijuana legalization

I continue to not know just how much import and impact official party platforms have. Nevertheless, I still think this press piece about formal events at the DNC, headlined "Democrats become first major party to back pathway to legalizing pot," is reporting on events that are a pretty big deal for marijuana reform advocates now and in the years ahead. Here is the official language from the party platform embraced by Dems:

“Because of conflicting federal and state laws concerning marijuana, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from the list of ‘Schedule 1’ federal controlled substances and to appropriately regulate it, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization. We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African-Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.”

Here is more from the press piece with reactions to these developments from leading marijuana reform advocates:

Legalization backers applauded the vote and said it reflected polls that found a majority of Americans wanted to legalize the drug.  “The fact that one of the country’s two major parties has officially endorsed a pathway to legalization is the clearest sign we’ve seen yet that marijuana reform is a mainstream issue at the forefront of American politics,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group. “A clear and growing majority of voters want to end prohibition.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, does not back across-the-board legalization at the federal level. The platform includes her often-used language that marijuana legalization should be left to the states, allowing them to be “laboratories of democracy.”  That’s good news for Washington state, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska, which that have already approved recreational marijuana, along with the District of Columbia....

Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group, said a growing number of state Democratic parties had already backed legalization in their platforms this year.  That includes California, which will vote on recreational marijuana in November.  “It’s not particularly surprising that the platform calls for rolling back the failed policy of marijuana prohibition, seeing as the vast majority of Democrats – and a majority of Americans – support making marijuana legal for adults,” he said. 

Despite the support, Tvert said he wouldn’t be surprised if the issue didn’t get much attention from speakers at the Democratic convention this week.  “The platform typically reflects the positions of most party members, but it does not necessarily reflect the political or policy priorities of candidates and party leaders,” he said.

July 28, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Recognizing how California's coming vote on full legalization of marijuana could be a game changer

AumalogoNROne of many reasons I focused a lot last year on the failed (and at times foolish) campaign to fully legalize marijuana in Ohio was because I believe that a vote in favor of full legalization in 2015 in a bellwhether state like Ohio would be a "game changer" in the marijuana reform movement nationwide. But even though Ohio voters soundly rejected a flawed full legalization initiative last year, marijuana reform in Ohio and nationwide continues apace. And, as this new Rolling Stone article highlights, California's full legalization initiative now on the ballot is surely the most obvious "game-changer" circa 2016. The Rolling Stone piece is headlined "The Pot Law That Could Be 'Deal-Breaker for the Drug War': California's Adult Use of Marijuana Act could have ramifications far beyond the state's borders," and here are excerpts:

Last week California's pot legalization initiative, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, qualified for the ballot in November, setting the stage for a vote that will have ramifications far beyond California's borders.

There are several reasons why if the AUMA passes, it will make California the heaviest domino to fall in the nationwide effort to legalize marijuana, the most obvious being the state's size and the sheer number of people who would have access to legal weed. One in 10 Americans lives in California, while the Los Angeles basin alone is home to more people than Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska — the four states that have so far legalized adult use marijuana — combined. California also has the sixth largest economy in the world, allowing the rest of the country to draw solid conclusions about the financial impact of legalization.

The Golden State is also known as a trendsetter with the power to break down stereotypes. Having pioneered medical marijuana in 1996, California is a leading exporter of cannabis policy and culture. If California legalizes, the way it goes about doing so will set a standard going forward for other local and national governments to follow.

"It really is the state that wags the tail of the nation, so if California's 55 senators and representatives in Congress were to be in favor of legalization, then it would be a total dynamic change," says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML. Other states like Colorado and Washington give us models of how legalization can look, he continues, "but none of them has enough national sway so as to be the template for the rest of the country where possible."

California influences other states, as well the federal government. "We see California as a tipping point to end federal prohibition," says Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.  If legalization passes, overnight a plurality of the United States population will reside within cannabis-legal states, and the federal government will be forced to reckon with the "marijuana question," she says. Moreover, California can make the biggest difference in regard to international drug cartels, especially in Mexico. "Colorado has begun to undermine the marijuana cartels, but I think [legalization] in California might cut their legs out from under them," Lyman adds.

California will become the new "gold standard" for legalization, she says. Other states can look to California for guidance on cannabis revenue allocation, community assessment, environmental protection, anti-monopoly provisions, drug education for juvenile possession of cannabis, expunging marijuana convictions and banning regulators from denying licenses to those with prior drug felonies.

First and foremost, the AUMA would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older. In doing so, it would also herald a new economic program to offset the effects of prohibition and the Drug War. If passed, the measure would impose a 15 percent retail tax on cannabis, projected to generate up to $1 billion in revenue, as well as $100 million annual savings, to fund public university research on legalization ($10 million), DUI protocols ($3 million), medical cannabis research ($2 million) and support for communities most devastated by the Drug War ($50 million over five years). Everything left over would go to environmental cleanup from illegal grows (20 percent), law enforcement (20 percent) and youth drug prevention, treatment and education (60 percent)....

Additionally, people with prior marijuana convictions could petition to reduce or expunge them from their records — no matter whether they are still in jail, on probation or parole, or have already finished their sentences. "We see 2016 in some ways as potentially the last year where social justice drug policy reforms are leading the marijuana legalization battle, as this becomes a full-fledged industry," says Lyman. Capitalist motives could take charge, pushing socially conscious policy to the sidelines. If the AUMA fails, however, activists worry it could have a depressing effect on other legalization efforts and extend the end of prohibition. "Having California lose would be a tremendous setback," says Lyman. "We cannot afford to lose."...

Legalization in California opens up a conversation at national and international levels, says Chris Conrad, a court-qualified expert witness on marijuana, author and activist influential in shaping California's medical marijuana laws. Even if the AUMA isn't perfect, it's a starting point from which California and the nation can continue to see progress. "The initiative allows for more changes and improvements. Look at all this progress we made with marijuana illegal. Just think of what we can do when it's legal," he says.

Conrad points out that if California legalizes, the entire American West Coast from Alaska through Baja will have legal marijuana. (Canada will likely legalize in 2017, too.) "That's a huge chunk of the country, and it sends a message to the rest of the world that it's OK to do this," says Conrad. "Once California legalizes marijuana, people will say it's done. Remember we came from zero tolerance, and now we're talking about how much marijuana should a person be able to carry around legally. I think it's time to cash in some chips. It's a deal-breaker for the Drug War."

July 6, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Is Congress now really "moving in the general direction of legalization" of marijuana?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new Politico article and its full headline: "Congress mellows on pot crackdowns: Following the lead of the states, it's moving in the general direction of legalization, advocates say."  Here is how the article begins:

Don’t break out the bong just yet, but Congress is quietly chipping away at the federal ban on marijuana. It’s not happening with a sweeping national law, but through modest provisions slipped into spending bills in recent weeks.

For example: Bills funding the Veterans Affairs Department have a line that lifts a prohibition on medical marijuana. The Senate Appropriations Committee has adopted provisions barring the federal government from interfering on pot enforcement where medical marijuana is already legal. And there’s movement in both chambers to make sure banks don’t get penalized for handling money from legal pot businesses.

None of these will bring overnight change on the federal level. But each little measure shows that Congress, following the lead of the states, is moving in the general direction of legalization, advocates say. “We can kind of look at this as the end of prohibition, or at least the beginning of the end of prohibition,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat who backed his state’s 2014 ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana and is helping lead efforts to soften federal restrictions.

Attitudes around the country and on Capitol Hill have changed so quickly that even advocates of rolling back pot restrictions have been surprised.  It was only a few years ago that even the most modest reform proposals were rejected in the House and Senate, said Michael Collins, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance.  Now?  “We just win all the time,” he said, sounding not unlike a certain presidential candidate.

Most of the winning has taken place during the humdrum, but hugely consequential annual appropriations process, and this year is no different. A series of bipartisan provisions to loosen marijuana laws have been attached to government funding bills and are making their way through the House and Senate.  In particular, lawmakers are making it easier for doctors to prescribe medical marijuana and are nudging banks to provide services to the nascent recreational marijuana industry, a key step toward legitimizing sales of the drug and paving the way for easy access at stores where pot is legal.

Democrats have typically been the strongest backers of reforming marijuana laws, but Republicans are increasingly lending their support as opinion shifts in red states, speeding up momentum in Congress.  “The missing component was the constitutionalists and the libertarian conservatives,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a conservative Republican from California, who has rallied GOP support to loosen restrictions.

I do not think it is accurate to even suggest that many members of Congress are moving toward full legalization, but I do strongly believe that most members have now come to see that, these days, there is likely more to lose than to gain politically by being a forcefully supporter of blanket prohibition at the federal level. And this reality makes the coming 2016 initiative votes in various states on full legalization so interesting and important. If full legalization wins in most states, I think Congress will see the political writing on the wall. But if it loses in a few states, I suspect the future of major legal reforms in Congress and elsewhere will be a bit slower and less certain.

June 27, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Two great new Brookings papers on the varied forces really shaping marijuana reform

ImagesRegular readers perhaps growing bored of hearing me sing the praises of the work being done by the The Brookings Institution on the legal, political and social realities surrounding modern marijuana reform.   But two great new Brookings papers (along with this live event about the papers) ensures that I will be continuing to talk about the must-read materials the folks there are continuing to produce.   Here are links to the two papers and the summaries provided by Brookings:

Worry about bad marijuana — not Big Marijuana by John Hudak and Jonathan Rauch

Many critics and proponents of marijuana legalization alike have voiced concerns about the potential emergence of Big Marijuana, a corporate lobby akin to Big Tobacco that recklessly pursues profits and wields sufficient clout to shape regulation to its liking.

Although marijuana remains illegal under federal law, medical and/or recreational marijuana is now legal in more than two dozen states. As the federal government has largely tolerated state legalization, corporate capital and muscle have begun moving in on these new state markets. Such commercialization raises a new set of concerns about how industry dynamics may impact consumer behavior and potentially incur social costs.

In their new paper, “Worry about bad marijuana—not Big Marijuana,” John Hudak and Jonathan Rauch argue against alarmism. In analyzing the likely implications of the corporatization of marijuana, they conclude the following:

The marijuana industry will remain a diverse one even as large corporations emerge. The Big Marijuana rubric is more misleading than helpful as a guide to policy because it oversimplifies and stereotypes what is in reality a continuum of business scales and structures.

The marijuana industry is very unlikely to transform into something that looks like Big Tobacco during its notorious heyday. It is more likely that a commercial and regulatory model would look like the one governing alcohol, which is regulated primarily at the state level, combines mandatory with voluntary measures to police industry conduct, does a credible job of preventing antisocial and abusive commercial behavior, and has proven stable over time and broadly acceptable to the public and the industry.

Intelligently regulated and managed, Big Marijuana can be part of the solution. Corporatization, though not without its hazards, has considerable upsides. It brings advantages in terms of public accountability and regulatory compliance, product safety and reliability, market stability, and business professionalism.

Policy should concern itself with harmful practices, not with industry structure, and it should begin with a presumption of neutrality on issues of corporate size and market structure. Attempts to block corporatization are likely to backfire or fail. For policymakers, the concern should be bad marijuana, not big marijuana.

Bootleggers, Baptists, bureaucrats, and bongs: How special interests will shape marijuana legalization by Jonathan Rauch and Philip Wallach

Where there are markets, regulations, and money, special interests and self-serving behavior will not be far away. So argue Philip Wallach and Jonathan Rauch in this new paper that examines how special interests are likely to shape marijuana legalization and regulation in the United States.

Why did legalization of marijuana break through in the face of what had long been overwhelming interest-group resistance? In a post-disruption world, how might key social and bureaucratic actors reorganize and reassert themselves? As legalization ushers in a “new normal” of marijuana-related regulation and lobbying, what kinds of pitfalls and opportunities lie ahead? In this paper, Wallach and Rauch address those questions through the prism of what political economists often call the theory of public choice—the study of how interest groups and bureaucratic incentives influence policy outcomes. Their conclusions include:

For many years, the marijuana-policy debate was dominated by an “iron triangle” of anti-legalization interests: moralists and public-health advocates who believe marijuana use is wrong or harmful; commercial and gray-market interests with stakes in drug treatment and medical marijuana; and law-enforcement and quasi-governmental entities whose budgets and missions are sustained by the war on drugs. Those interests’ combined firepower stunted change even as public support for marijuana prohibition softened.

To make possible the wholesale disruption that has happened with marijuana legalization, public opinion change was necessary, but it was not sufficient. Also required was the disruption of the iron triangle. That was accomplished in the late 2000s through a shrewdly crafted campaign of “asymmetric warfare” that aimed money and argumentation at the incumbent coalition’s weakest points. In particular, reformers shifted the public’s focus from harms of marijuana use to harms of marijuana criminalization.

The rise of commercial marijuana interests and a potentially controversial “marijuana lobby” may impede legalization’s momentum as its opponents change the subject once again, from harms of criminalization to harms of corporate predation.

The present disrupted regulatory environment is unlikely to last. Old prohibitionist interests are discombobulated and new commercial-marijuana interests are still getting organized, giving legalizing states a degree of regulatory freedom which is exceptional but probably not durable. Over time, multiple interests will coalesce and colonize the regulatory process.

Despite widely touted concern that one or more disproportionately powerful players will dominate the regulatory system, regulatory incoherence should be a greater concern than regulatory capture. As policymakers increasingly need to navigate complex and conflicting interest-group politics, the result is at least as likely to be overregulation and misregulation as it is to be systematic underregulation.

June 19, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Microsoft's engagement with marijuana industry hits the front page of the New York Times

Xmicrosoft_black_34.jpg.pagespeed.ic.7Q9sBQpEfjI am not sure when and how we will know for sure that the marijuana industry has gone entirely mainstream, but this new article appearing on the front-page of the New York Times seems like a tipping point moment. The lengthy article, as appearing on-line, is headlined "The First Big Company to Say It’s Serving the Legal Marijuana Trade? Microsoft." (Apparently in the printed paper the headline was "Microsoft Dips Toe Into Trade on Marijuana.") Here are excerpts from the lengthy piece:

As state after state has legalized marijuana in one way or another, big names in corporate America have stayed away entirely. Marijuana, after all, is still illegal, according to the federal government.

But Microsoft is breaking the corporate taboo on pot this week by announcing a partnership to begin offering software that tracks marijuana plants from “seed to sale,” as the pot industry puts it.

The software — a new product in Microsoft’s cloud computing business — is meant to help states that have legalized the medical or recreational use of marijuana keep tabs on sales and commerce, ensuring that they remain in the daylight of legality.

But until now, even that boring part of the pot world was too controversial for mainstream companies. It is apparent now, though, that the legalization train is not slowing down: This fall, at least five states, including the biggest of them all — California — will vote on whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

So far, only a handful of smaller banks are willing to offer accounts to companies that grow or sell marijuana, and Microsoft will not be touching that part of the business. But the company’s entry into the government compliance side of the business suggests the beginning of a legitimate infrastructure for an industry that has been growing fast and attracting lots of attention, both good and bad.

“We do think there will be significant growth,” said Kimberly Nelson, the executive director of state and local government solutions at Microsoft. “As the industry is regulated, there will be more transactions, and we believe there will be more sophisticated requirements and tools down the road.”

Microsoft’s baby step into the business came through an announcement on Thursday that it was teaming up with a Los Angeles start­up, Kind, that built the software the tech giant will begin marketing. Kind — one of many small companies trying to take the marijuana business mainstream — offers a range of products, including A.T.M.­style kiosks that facilitate marijuana sales, working through some of the state­-chartered banks that are comfortable with such customers.

Microsoft will not be getting anywhere near these kiosks or the actual plants. Rather, it will be working with Kind’s “government solutions” division, offering software only to state and local governments that are trying to build compliance systems.

But for the young and eager legalized weed industry, Microsoft’s willingness to attach its name to any part of the business is a big step forward. “Nobody has really come out of the closet, if you will,” said Matthew A. Karnes, the founder of Green Wave Advisors, which provides data and analysis of the marijuana business. “It’s very telling that a company of this caliber is taking the risk of coming out and engaging with a company that is focused on the cannabis business.”...

It’s hard to know if other corporate giants have provided their services in more quiet ways to cannabis purveyors. New York State, for instance, has said it is working with Oracle to track medicinal marijuana patients. But there appears to be little precedent for a big company advertising its work in the space. It is still possible — though considered unlikely — that the federal government could decide to crack down on the legalization movement in the states.

The partnership with Kind is yet another bold step for Microsoft as its looks to replace the revenue from its fading desktop software business. On Monday, it announced that it was buying LinkedIn. Microsoft has put a lot of emphasis on its cloud business, Azure. The Kind software will be one of eight pieces of preferred software that Microsoft will offer to users of Azure Government — and the only one related to marijuana.

The conflict between state and federal laws on marijuana has given a somewhat improvisational nature to the cannabis industry. Stores that sell pot have been particularly hobbled by the unwillingness of banks to deal with the money flowing through the industry. Many dispensaries have been forced to rely on cash for all transactions, or looked to start­ups like Kind, with its kiosks that take payments inside dispensaries.

Governments, too, have generally been relying on smaller start­ups to help develop technology that can track marijuana plants and sales. A Florida software company, BioTrackTHC, is helping Washington State, New Mexico and Illinois monitor the marijuana trade inside their states....

The opening up of the market in California is already leading to a scramble for the big money that is likely to follow, and Microsoft will now be well placed to get in on the action. Ms. Nelson of Microsoft said that initially her company would be marketing the Kind software at conferences for government employees, but it could eventually also be attending the cannabis events where Kind is already a regular presence. “This is an entirely new field for us,” she said. “We would have to figure out which conference might be the premier conference in this space. That’s not outside the realm of possibility.”

June 17, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Web/Tech, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Notable CDC survey data showing no changes in youth marijuana use despite massive state changes in marijuana law and policy

Via Tom Angell, the founder of Marijuana Majority, I just saw this interesting data report from the Center For Desease Control under the heading "Trends in the Prevalence of Marijuana, Cocaine, and Other Illegal Drug Use, National YRBS: 1991—2015." For those who do not know, the YRBS refers to the nation Youth Risk Behavior Survey which "monitors priority health risk behaviors and "is conducted every two years during the spring semester and provides data representative of 9th through 12th grade students in public and private schools throughout the United States."

The first three lines of data from this link will be of greatest interest to marijuana reform advocate, as it reports from the last 25 years the survey results on the issues of how many high-schoolers have "Ever used marijuana (one or more times during their life)" and have "Tried marijuana before age 13 years (for the first time)" and "Currently used marijuana (one or more times during the 30 days before the survey)."  Though I am simplifying the particulars, for all these survey questions, it appears that teen use of marijuana as reported via these surveys generally increased some in the 1990s and generally decreased over the last 15 years. And, of particular note, the CDC report that from 2013 to 2015, these was essentially and statistically speaking "No change." (Also, encouragingly, it appears that use of harder drugs by teens is also either not changing or even "decreasing" in recent years.)

Long story short, while adult use of marijuana is being legalize recreationally in a few states and medically in many more, it appears that so far we are seeing no obvious impact on teen use of marijuana.   I am not confident that these trends will persist over a long period of time if marijuana is legalized for recreational use by adults nationwide, but for now there is preliminary data to contradict assertions by opponents that marijuana reform that reform will be leading to significant increases in use by underage populations.

June 9, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 30, 2016

In tradition of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Libertarians nominate for Prez a cannabis businessman in Gary Johnson

926d67549938b727ed1419c8ad3fc0e3_f262For a host of reasons, I am pleased to see the Libertarian Party getting more than its usual attention this election cycle; and, as reported here, this past weekend the Libertarian Party selection Gary Johnson and William Weld to be their Prez and VP candidated for 2016.   Supporters of marijuana reform likely know the name Gary Johnson, and this recent AP article headlined "This marijuana-loving Libertarian staking claim as Trump alternative," highlights some of the reasons why. Here are excerpts:

Johnson is [going to be] relying on an intensifying schedule of media appearances to boost his name recognition in an effort to reach the necessary 15 percent threshold to qualify for the presidential debates this fall.  “We cannot go into a battleground state and compete,” said Johnson’s senior strategist Ron Nielson, citing the high cost of running a campaign in states like Florida or Ohio.  The Johnson campaign will instead focus its resources on cheaper states where libertarians have done well in the past, places like Alaska, maybe New Hampshire, he says.

Yet Trump’s Republican critics don’t necessarily need to find a candidate who can win. Many are seeking a legitimate protest candidate where they could focus their anti-Trump energy. Should that candidate earn even a few percentage points in key states this fall, it could hurt Trump’s chances. “Gary will be an outlet for millions of Americans who just can’t fathom the idea of voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump,” said Ed Crane, who co-founded the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute and now runs a super PAC he says may support Johnson “down the road.”...

Johnson represents a set of policies that do not line up perfectly with Republicans or Libertarians. He embraces fiscal conservatism, but not to the lengths that some hardline anti-government libertarians would like. He considers himself a liberal on social issues, supporting same-sex marriage and abortion rights. And he supports a non-interventionalist foreign policy that focuses on America’s challenges at home.

Many know him best for his repeated calls to legalize drugs. Johnson largely focuses his energy on marijuana, but also suggests that concern over narcotics such as heroin are exaggerated compared to the impact of alcohol or even smoking cigarettes. He is a regular marijuana user, noting that he most recently took an edible form of the drug three weeks ago.

“I’m one of the 100 million Americans that do this. If that disqualifies me from being president, so be it,” he told The Associated Press, adding that he recently purchased the drug legally in Colorado but illegally transported it back to his home in New Mexico. “Sure, I’m in the tens of thousands of those that are guilty of that phenomenon,” he says.

He promises not consume marijuana if elected president, however. “I think the American people deserve to know that there will be a steady hand,” he said. “And I would hope that my history regarding this stuff would bear out the fact that I’m a pretty disciplined cat.”

Left out of this story is the fact that Johnson was not so long ago, as reported here, the CEO of Cannabis Sativa Inc.   And, as the title of this post is meant to suggest, that history creates a notable connection between Prez Candidate Johnson and our Founders.  Specifically, although there is much debate over whether and how the Framers of our Constitution used cannabis, I am pretty sure it is widely acknowledged that both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp for sale on their Virginia farms.  Thus, like Johnson, they were both involved in cannabis commerce.

May 30, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"As more states legalize marijuana, adolescents' problems with pot decline: Fewer adolescents also report using marijuana"

Journal-american-academy-childThe title of this post is the headline of this notable Science Daily release that reports on this notable newly published research in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry that surely should be getting lots and lots of attention from marijuana reform advocates.  Here are the basics via the Science Daily:

A survey of more than 216,000 adolescents from all 50 states indicates the number of teens with marijuana-related problems is declining. Similarly, the rates of marijuana use by young people are falling despite the fact more U.S. states are legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana use and the number of adults using the drug has increased.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis examined data on drug use collected from young people, ages 12 to 17, over a 12-year span. They found that the number of adolescents who had problems related to marijuana -- such as becoming dependent on the drug or having trouble in school and in relationships -- declined by 24 percent from 2002 to 2013.

Over the same period, kids, when asked whether they had used pot in the previous 12 months, reported fewer instances of marijuana use in 2013 than their peers had reported in 2002. In all, the rate fell by 10 percent. Those drops were accompanied by reductions in behavioral problems, including fighting, property crimes and selling drugs. The researchers found that the two trends are connected. As kids became less likely to engage in problem behaviors, they also became less likely to have problems with marijuana.

The study's first author, Richard A. Grucza, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry, explained that those behavioral problems often are signs of childhood psychiatric disorders. "We were surprised to see substantial declines in marijuana use and abuse," he said. "We don't know how legalization is affecting young marijuana users, but it could be that many kids with behavioral problems are more likely to get treatment earlier in childhood, making them less likely to turn to pot during adolescence. But whatever is happening with these behavioral issues, it seems to be outweighing any effects of marijuana decriminalization."

The new study is published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The data was gathered as part of a confidential, computerized study called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It surveys young people from different racial, ethnic and income groups in all 50 states about their drug use, abuse and dependence.

In 2002, just over 16 percent of those 12 to 17 reported using marijuana during the previous year. That number fell to below 14 percent by 2013. Meanwhile, the percentage of young people with marijuana-use disorders declined from around 4 percent to about 3 percent.

At the same time, the number of kids in the study who reported having serious behavior problems -- such as getting into fights, shoplifting, bringing weapons to school or selling drugs -- also declined over the 12-year study period. "Other research shows that psychiatric disorders earlier in childhood are strong predictors of marijuana use later on," Grucza said. "So it's likely that if these disruptive behaviors are recognized earlier in life, we may be able to deliver therapies that will help prevent marijuana problems -- and possibly problems with alcohol and other drugs, too."

May 24, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Notable commentary highlights how "Legalized Pot, Free Trade" could significantly improve US-Mexico interactions

USThis notable new New York Times commentary, authored by Ioan Grillomay and headlined "Legalized Pot, Free Trade," highlights some international benefits that could and should flow from modenr marijuana reform efforts. Here are excerpts:

Speaking last month at the United Nations special session on drugs, President Enrique Peña Nieto said he wanted to relax the nation’s marijuana laws.  He has since sent Mexico’s Congress a bill to legalize medicine that contains cannabis, allow people to carry an ounce of marijuana without being prosecuted, and free some prisoners convicted on marijuana charges.  “We Mexicans know all too well the range and the defects of prohibitionist and punitive policies, and of the so-called war on drugs that has prevailed for 40 years,” he said.

Mr. Peña Nieto is new to the drug-reform game. Only last year, he said he was against legalizing marijuana, and at one point said he was not even going to attend the United Nations session.

What happened?  He seems to have realized (or been advised) that it is better to be on the side of inevitable change.  The proposal follows the rapid loosening of drug laws in the United States: Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical and recreational marijuana, and 20 more states now permit it as medicine.  The president’s shift also follows a November ruling by Mexico’s Supreme Court, which held that the government had no constitutional right to arrest people for their “civil right” of growing cannabis.

And more is coming soon.  In November, Californians could vote on an initiative to legalize marijuana.  If America’s richest state, and one on the border, votes yes, it will have a huge impact on Mexico.  Why would the Mexican government want to crack down on traffickers taking marijuana into California if it were fully legal there?

Various Mexican politicians and activists have come out in favor of wider marijuana legalization. Among them, the opposition senator Mario Delgado has proposed the decriminalization and regulation of cultivation, production and sales across Mexico. The former president Vicente Fox also supports this idea. Mr. Peña Nieto’s proposals make sense, but there’s even more to be done. The current bill would effectively allow cannabis consumption, but it would leave most of the production and selling of it to the black market — which means largely in the hands of drug cartels.

Marijuana reform in the United States has already eaten into the business of Mexican cartels. In 2011, the year before Colorado and Washington State legalized it, the United States border patrol seized 2.5 million pounds of cannabis coming from Mexico.  Last year, with marijuana legal in four states and the District of Columbia, that had fallen to 1.5 million pounds.

However, even the latest number indicates that a significant amount of marijuana is still being smuggled north. The profits pay the cartels’ assassins, as well as corrupt police officers and soldiers, who discard piles of bodies across Mexico. Amid these changing dynamics, it becomes more and more pointless for Mexican soldiers (underwritten by the United States, through the Merida Initiative) to keep up the ritual of burning marijuana crops. What is needed, then, is for both countries to move from the current mishmash of laws toward the inevitable conclusion: that marijuana becomes a legalized product that can be traded over borders.

The same market forces that shape the trade in liquor or tobacco will shape the trade in marijuana. Like those, it generates major profits for the formal economy.  A research group predicts the legalized marijuana market in the United States will be worth more than $6 billion this year, rising to more than $20 billion by 2020.  That could be a boon for the Mexican and United States economies.

A regulated marijuana market won’t suddenly end the bloodshed in Mexico. Cartels would still traffic cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines. The cartels have also diversified to kidnapping, extortion and even oil theft, crimes that can be dealt with only by markedly improved Mexican police forces. But marijuana reform will help immensely. Many in the ranks of Mexican cartels take their first step into the crime world by growing, smuggling or selling pot. That link would be cut, and legal jobs created. Mexican security forces could finally leave the marijuana issue behind to focus on real problems.

The United Nations special session on drugs was heavy on empty talk, but several positive things came out of it. One was that there is no appetite to make countries abide by the United Nations treaties that prohibit the legalization of marijuana. Another is that a range of voices across the world are calling for a new approach to drug policy. The growth of a legalized, binational marijuana market would be a step toward turning those calls into reality.

May 21, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Even among skeptics, benefits of marijuana reform seem to eclipse drawbacks in Colorado

Colorado.first_.to_.legalize.250-1I am a fairly strong proponent of marijuana reforms in large part because there seem to be a number of tangible immediate benefits from legalizating, regulating and taxing the marijuana marketplace, while significant drawbacks rarely prove to be as dire as predicted by opponents of reform.   Two new stories in major newspapers today discussing developments in Colorado reinforce my views. Here are headlines, links and exceepts:

From USA Today here, "These kids are going to college on pot": 

Colorado pot smokers are helping send 25 students to college, the first scholarships in the U.S. funded with taxes on legal marijuana.  The awards offered by Pueblo County, in southern Colorado, are the latest windfall from legal Colorado marijuana sales that are also helping build schools and aid the homeless — and in one county, providing 8% raises to municipal workers.

Pueblo County is granting $1,000 each to the students, with recipients to be announced later this month.  “It’s incredible,” said Beverly Duran, the executive director of the Pueblo Hispanic Education Foundation, which is overseeing the scholarships.  "Every year we get a nice pool of students … but we can always only award to a small percentage.  This for us expands that to extraordinary lengths.”...

Further south in Colorado, Huerfano County expects to collect an extra $500,000 in cannabis taxes this year. That’s bankrolling an 8% raise for almost all of the county's 96 municipal employees, a big deal in an area where a county road worker earns $12 an hour and most employees haven’t had a raise in more than five years....

In Aurora, the state’s third-largest city, marijuana taxes are helping improve roads, pay off a municipal recreation center, and provide direct services for homeless men and women.  Aurora has nearly 20 pot shops and five grow sites, generating a projected $5.4 million in new taxes this year.

From the Los Angeles Times here, "Governor who called legalization 'reckless' now says Colorado's pot industry is working":

“The predictions of fire and brimstone have failed to materialize,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group working to reform pot laws.  “Most Coloradoans, including the governor, recognize that the law is working.”

From the start, [Colorado Gov] Hickenlooper saw the legalization of marijuana as a great national experiment, something utterly new in this country and fraught with potential public health and safety issues.  He fretted about a potential rise in drug use among children and was clearly uncomfortable with an amendment directly conflicting with federal law, which considers pot an illegal drug on par with cocaine.

There were plenty of snags at first.  Marijuana edibles proved especially problematic because few people had experience with them. High-profile overdoses made national news.  Just last week a lawsuit was filed against the maker of a marijuana-laced candy, alleging the product triggered a "psychotic episode" that caused a man to kill his wife in 2014.  Still, none of Hickenlooper’s worst fears were realized.

Colorado is booming.  The state has a 4.2% unemployment rate, one of the best in the country.  High-tech companies are moving in.  Small towns across the state, some once teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, have been saved by tax revenues from pot dispensaries.  And the $1-billion-a-year cannabis business will pump $100 million in taxes into state coffers this year.

Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for Colorado, said the governor’s views reflect a growing sense of optimism about how the industry is regulated.  “In the short run, there have been a lot fewer public safety and health issues than the governor feared in the beginning,” said Freedman, who is often referred to as the state’s marijuana czar.  “In the beginning, we had problems with edibles and hash oil fires but now, for the most part, Colorado looks a lot like it did before legalization.”

Marijuana consumption has not changed much from pre-legalization levels and there has been no significant increase in public health and safety problems, he said.  As for the $100 million in tax revenue, Freedman noted, that's out of a $27-billion state budget.  Some 70% of the money is earmarked for school construction, public health initiatives and other projects.  The rest goes back into regulating the industry.  

“The governor has called this a grand experiment from the beginning.  He looks at data points as he goes along and I think he’s pleasantly surprised that there were not as many challenges as he thought,” Freedman said. “He would say the jury is still out on this experiment but he’s optimistic.”

Some are less circumspect.  “The state’s image is actually rising.  We were just ranked as the best place to live in America,” Tvert said.  “The idea that businesses would not relocate here or conferences wouldn’t be held here was untrue.  In fact, attendees at conferences are now offered pot tours as day trips.”

May 17, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Another way blanket federal marijuana prohibition impedes state efforts to craft wise cannabis laws

This new New York Times article, headlined "How Much Is Too Much Marijuana to Drive? Lawmakers Wonder," not only picks up on the recent AAA reports on marijuana impairment and driving, but also spotlights how federal law continues to get in the way of needed research on these issues:

As more states consider legalizing the substance, that presents a challenge to legislators seeking to create laws on driving while impaired by marijuana.

The study, commissioned by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, found that laws in six states that legally assess impairment by measuring how much THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) is in a person’s blood are not supported by science. “There is no concentration of the drug that allows us to reliably predict that someone is impaired behind the wheel in the way that we can with alcohol,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research....

The AAA study echoes the recommendations of many experts who call for the improvement of technology to evaluate drivers’ saliva for cannabis use.

Sean O’Connor, the faculty director of the Cannabis Law and Policy Project at the University of Washington, said that there was promising research into detecting cannabis through saliva and other techniques, but that it was being stymied by the drug’s legal classification as a Schedule 1 substance. “We are hamstrung by the fact that you can’t do legitimate scientific research unless you have a Schedule 1 license,” he said. His argument underlines the difficulty for states trying to write coherent policy when the drug is still illegal under federal law.

Prior recent related post:

May 14, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 13, 2016

New podcast from the National Constitution Center on "Marijuana and the Constitution"

Cover170x170Earlier this week, I had the great honor and pleasure of talking with Jeffrey Rosen and Randy Barnett as part of the National Constitution Center's "We the People" series concerning various constitutional issues related to the regulation and legalization of marijuana. The podcast is available at this link, and here is how it is introduced via that webpage:

Marijuana was first outlawed nationally by the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. Since 1970, it has been classified an illegal Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, listed alongside LSD, heroin, and other narcotics.

But in 1996, California became the first state to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, starting a cascade of changes at the state level. As of May 2016, 24 states and D.C. have legalized medical marijuana; four states — Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska—and D.C. have also legalized recreational marijuana. In November 2016, more states, including Nevada and Maine, are slated to vote on the issue.

Join[] We the People to explore the constitutional issues at stake....

May 13, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)